The diatribe session was my favourite of all tests. I was so good at it I could see my teacher smiling slightly every time it was my turn to stand. It made him proud, proved he’d been efficient at teaching us and stood as a call to other parents to bring their sons to him for tutoring. Only boys were allowed in these schools. Only male children could learn our history, our customs and traditions and only exceptional ones could turn out to be leaders in our cluster of communities.
My fellow students were watching, waiting, and so was my teacher. I asked my first question and the looks on their faces echoed it back to me – a great sign. I answered it quoting sections of the law to defend it. I paused to savour the delightful taste of victory, I was winning the curiosity game. I asked my second, the same reactions as the first. I had one more to go. I wanted it to count, I had planned for this moment. It would be the last diatribe session for us as graduation happens in a week.
“What do we expect in the Messiah?”
If you were visiting my school for the first time, you would be completely taken aback by the awkward silence in the room. The curious glances of my fellow students would make you wonder. This is what we’ve been trained on these past six years. This question shouldn’t evoke such awe and expectation in the audience. But it did. It did because it was coming from me. Master of the diatribe method of teaching the law. King of deep research and strange answers.
I smiled as I recalled this childhood memory. It was the one time my teacher shook hands with me while saying ‘You’ll lead our people someday’, with the full assurance of one who’s seen my kind before. I reverenced my teacher. I still do today, except that he’s not my teacher anymore and he just did something I can’t explain.
A few hoodlums are threatening the peace of our customs and traditions. Teaching that all I learnt as a child was now obsolete. There’s a new way to approaching God, it has nothing to do with being good enough to approach him. They proclaim an insane carpenter who died for defaming our laws and claiming to be the son of our God as the Messiah. Such insolence! How can God have a son? That would make him God too. The guts to spew such ignorance publicly! They were caught and brought to the customary court for trial and guess what my teacher did?
After the fisherman they call Peter spent the last hour spewing gibberish, the Sanhedrin Court heating up with rage as each one of us felt the very anger of God Himself. While I wondered why no thunder from heaven was striking him dead already, my teacher stood up. He was well respected. His teaching school at Judea had produced model lawyers like myself.
“Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
After he was done speaking, I looked around to see if anyone else was infuriated by the last sentence Dr. Gamaliel, my teacher had just made. I was disappointed. I felt betrayed. Did they hear it too? The suggestion in his last sentence, the subtle insinuation that these men could be right?. But no, they took his words and rather than stone the devilish life out of these rascals, they flogged them a few miserable strokes and warned them never to speak of the crucified carpenter as being the Messiah.
It’s happening again. That was the thought in my head as I watched another hoodlum spew rather audacious claims. His face was unfamiliar, he must be one of the many victims who had fallen for the rising madness. He had been brought in by my fellow Jews who had been in a heated argument with him. We were supposed to try him, to silence him but he was given free speech and soon everywhere was quiet. I feel embarrassed to say, but even I was captivated by how angelic his face looked.
He dared to school us. He told the story of our history to us like we were toddlers in his class. We listened intently like we were under a spell . Finally the spell broke when he accused us of being uncircumcised in our hearts, he called us murderers. His words, sharp, piercing, cut us straight into our hearts. Rage poured into our faces and with synergy we threw him out of our court. Out of the city. Stones began to leave the rocky grounds, landing with loud sounds on this rascal’s frail body. Blood tickled from different parts of his tearing skin. But this young man about to die in the cruelest of ways looked like he was having a great time. A kind of peace I can’t explain and a beautiful radiance shone on his face rather than agony. It annoyed the hell out of me.
Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”. When he had said this, he fell asleep. He died in the most serene way, like he was taking a nap.
The words stung. The peace was haunting. A strange pang of jealously gripped my heart. These hoodlums had something about them. And as I stood over Stephen’s clothes I knew I wanted more of these. I decided every hoodlum had to die too. I knew what to do, arrest and submit. The court would find them guilty and soon one after the other, they would all die.
Fueled by genuine rage, unexplainable jealously and love for the God these rascals demean, I began my mission.